The title of the article might come as a surprise to many. Traditionally, it is believed that heart diseases only impact adults, but in the modern day world, teenagers and children are also at risk for heart diseases. These diseases can have a genetic basis or can be due to lifestyle. Sedentary lifestyle, obesity, unhealthy eating habits, substance abuse, and stressful life conditions can all be causes which increase the risk of heart diseases among teenagers and children.
In this article, we are going to discuss major risk factors that may prove heart diseases at an early stage and some preventive measures:
High blood pressure:
This condition has a hereditary basis, and is usually missed or ignored because there are no apparent symptoms. High blood pressure can itself be a symptom of other, more serious, heart or kidney disorders. A simple way to diagnose is to regularly measure the blood pressure of your child.
Obesity is a major risk factor for heart diseases. The consumption of junk food, which is rich in fat, salt, and sugar, is a major cause of obesity in teens and children. An important risk factor is consumption of soft drinks, which is quite popular amongst this age group. The sugar and phosphorous content of these drinks are quite high. They not only add to the weight but also dehydrate the body and send the physiological system in shock (due to the sudden high in sugar, phosphorous and caffeine). It is, therefore, a major risk factor, keeping in mind its adverse effects and its popularity.
Lack of exercise:
This is another factor that adds to obesity. Teenagers and children today are exposed to digital and virtual media at a very young age. It is engrossing and convenient. As a result outdoor games have been on the decline. The term “couch potato” refers to the modern-day teenager and child.
This is a major cause of heart diseases, palpitations and heart attacks amongst teenagers. At the extreme level, the overdose of substances like alcohol, hallucinogens, and stimulants, can send the body in a state of shock and can lead to heart failure, coma or paralysis.
However, even in low levels, these substances put adolescents at risk for heart diseases.
Smoking, for example, is a major cause of peripheral heart diseases i.e. diseases that affect the vessels supplying blood to other organs, from the heart. Nicotine in cigarettes narrows blood vessels, and carbon monoxide and tar, reduce oxygen supply to the heart and other organs. They also injure blood vessels, leading to an increase in fatty plaque, which in turn adds to increase in cholesterol levels, which is itself a factor in heart diseases.
Stressful work conditions:
- Contrary to the popular conception of childhood and teenage, children and adolescents work under stressful conditions. The stress of competing and winning leads to irregular eating and sleeping habits. Long hours of starvation, is a major cause of diabetes in the young population. Diabetes itself increases the risk of heart diseases. Insomnia and irregular sleeping hours can also lead to depression and stress on the heart. Caffeine or nicotine is usually used to ward off sleep, and this again puts pressure on the heart.
Simple Ways to Avoid Heart Diseases In Children And Teenagers
- Do not resort to substance abuse of any kind. The channels of communication should always be open, between a teenager and the parent, so that s/he can ask for help if s/he decides to quit.
- Half an hour of sweat-inducing exercise can go a long way in preventing heart diseases.
- Regular checkups are also a must. Teens and their parents should drop the illusion that children and adolescents do not suffer from heart problems. Early diagnosis and treatment can lead to good prognosis.
- Making simple changes in diet habits, like limiting the intake of white sugar, junk food, and substituting soft drinks with natural juices (not packaged, as they are high in sugar and preservatives) can go a long way in preventing heart diseases.
- Having a proper sleep-wake cycle is also important. It is important to get 6-8 hours of sleep every day and at a stretch.